Human Nature in Shakespeare’s Othello

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Human nature surrounds one’s hopes, flaws, and virtues that are essential to humanity. These characteristics define our vulnerabilities and drive us to do inhumane things. In the story, Othello, William Shakespeare presents the fascinating insight into human nature by examining many aspects of jealousy, love, racism, hatred, etc. These details are what the author explores in the play’s characters and their improper relationships. Shakespeare’s characterization of Othello, Iago, Desdemona, and even other minor characters present his skill in human nature.

Vulnerability plays a significant role in human nature and the play Othello shows many examples of that. Vulnerabilities define our ways of love in society, and this idea is reflected through the relationship between Othello and Desdemona. Othello portrays himself to be a man of moral character and high status, which is evident when he says, “My parts, my title, and my perfect soul shall manifest me rightly” (I.II.31-32). Othello is aware of society’s negative view of individuals with dark skin like himself. He feels like he does not belong to the Venetian society due to the insecurities about his background, age, culture, and appearance. Those insecurities will inspire an individual to be more prone to negative thoughts, like Othello’s thoughts of being cheated on just by Iago’s words. The characters in Othello illustrate the consequences of their vulnerability. For instance, Desdemona and Othello reflect how love is dangerous when it is fueled by idealization. Desdemona is a virtuous lady and expresses her divine love, honesty, and integrity to Othello throughout the play. Upon the idealization of her gentleness by Othello, it ultimately leads him into killing her. Othello uses the simile, “Whiter skin of hers than snow and smooth as monumental alabaster (V.II.4-5),” which suggest that it is not jealousy that leads him into murdering Desdemona, but the thought that Desdemona is not the sweet and pure lady he thinks she is.

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Shakespeare also reveals components of jealousy and hatred in Othello. Othello and Iago are not the only characters that represent jealousy. Roderigo’s fantasy with Othello’s wife makes him jealous of Cassio and Othello. The same feeling is shown on Bianca when Cassio lends her Desdemona’s handkerchief without knowing whose it was. Cassio says, “You are jealous now. That it is from some mistress, some remembrance” (III.IV.186-187). As you can see, there are various amounts of jealousy all around in the play and that is what contributes to Iago being the primary villain of the play. Jealousy ultimately influences hatred; just like in other Shakespearean plays like Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare is focusing on “lovers killed by dynastic hatred” (Hollindale 2). Hollindale also says, in his book about Othello, that “the fate of individual figures has enormous political consequences: it causes war and civil dissension, giving rise to disorder that goes far beyond the individuals themselves” (Hollindale 2). Iago is a monumental example of this quote because he steps out of his boundaries that he wouldn’t have crossed if he wasn’t jealous, meaning he would go out his way just to belittle Othello. One example is Iago waking up Brabantio just to inform him that his daughter married Othello, “the black ram” (I.I.187). In act I scene I, he uses this racial slur and some others to convince Brabantio that Othello uses witchcraft to marry her; therefore, Desdemona didn’t do it out of her will. It is human nature for individuals to push the limits of our actions when we develop these negative traits in our head. Any man or woman can genuinely be a decent human being with morals but having those corrupt, critical thoughts inside of you will start to rearrange an individual’s reputation and self-image.

This play is not based on sexual jealousy only; many other natural human characteristics are present in Othello like Iago’s selfishness and deceit. It is obvious that Iago dislikes Othello and desires revenge because in act I scene III, Iago states that he “hates the moor… After some time, to abuse Othello’s ear” (I.III.373-398). Iago wants his created enemies to feel the same way he feels, that is why he starts to generate thoughts in Othello’s mind. Iago will only be satisfied if other people who “caused” him to be jealous are jealous as well. As Bormann says, “Iago will not issue an open challenge, he is totally selfish (Bormann 2),” which shows that Iago could have confronted Othello, but instead, he chooses to bring him down indirectly. The fact that he doesn’t care about his consequences in his attempt to ruin Othello just escalates the idea of selfishness even more. He even deceives almost everyone in the play, faking his love and friendship to characters including Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, and Roderigo. Gratiano states, “The woman falls! Sure he hath killed his wife (V.II.275),” which refers to Iago stabbing Emilia after he took advantage of her earlier. The whole play, Iago is using his wife for his personal gain and when he got what he wanted, he didn’t care about her anymore. Iago’s soliloquy in act two, scene three, is when we truly start to understand the extent of his power; Iago shares one of his major manipulative trappings to the audience, “so will I turn her (Desdemona’s) virtue into pitch, and out of her own goodness make the net that shall enmesh them all” (II.III.360). Desdemona is considered a “saint” and a “representative of goodness and purity” whose “self-control and innocence are praiseworthy” (Shakespeare II.III.335-362).

With all this information being visible, truth does not look any different from the apparent truth; therefore, we cannot trust the evidence of our eyes. The sun circling the earth would look the same to us as the earth circling the sun. Iago knows this and because he understands human nature, he knows that Othello will take this as he presents it. It is the basis of Iago on human nature, which introduces his ability to manipulate the previous aspects explored, and which ultimately leads to Othello’s downfall. Iago’s evil-minded interference has now “put the Moor at least into a jealousy so strong, that judgment cannot cure” (Shakespeare II.I.311). Characters who become uncontrollably emotional are heading toward the fall from grace, which is where Iago’s manipulation maneuvers Othello into a state of wrath and jealousy. In these states of passion, mistakes are made, and impulses are triggered without enough reflection. One is no longer in control of oneself or the situation, and this is where Othello finds himself when he murders Desdemona. Iago implies many suggestions about Desdemona’s infidelity, poisoning Othello inside by filling his mind with jealous conceptions. It erodes trust and dissolves bonds between marriages along with letting in evil and chaos, which is much feared by Shakespearean audiences.

To sum it up, the play Othello has examined the essential characters like Othello and Desdemona, based on Iago’s insight of human nature. After looking in detail at Iago’s soliloquies and various parts/quotes from Othello, it is clear that Iago is a master at manipulation, ultimately leading to the downfall of the protagonist, Othello. This shows how important Shakespeare’s messages are and how they can relate to a modern audience. The themes and human nature in Othello’s work play an important role in today’s world and might even teach you a few things about the causes and effects of one’s actions. All the negative elements like jealousy, vulnerability, jealousy, selfishness, and hatred are all based on human nature and that is why Shakespeare includes it in his play, Othello.

Works Cited

  1. Shakespeare, William, Barbara A. Mowat, and Paul Werstine. The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. New York: Washington Square Press, 1993. Print
  2. Hollindale, Peter. “Othello and Desdemona.” Critical Survey, vol. 1, no. 1, 1989, pp. 43 52. JSTOR, JSTOR
  3. Bormann, Dennis F. “Thou Art a Villain”: From the Ensign to Iago—Blood Changes in Othello. “Shakespeare’s Theories of Blood, Character & Class,” Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2001, pp. 77-94. EBSCOhost

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Human Nature in Shakespeare’s Othello. (2022, Jan 11). Retrieved from

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